While digital technologies have reconfigured some nonfood departments, the use of new media tools to sell nonfood products so far is underutilized, industry observers told SN. But that may be changing.
“Retailers are still just beginning to scratch the surface of how they might utilize these media to strengthen their alliance with customers,” said Jim Wisner, president of Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill.
He said he recognizes the value of electronic media as they're used today, though less often for nonfoods than for grocery or fresh categories.
“Any electronic media are interruptive, but if you can get consumers to stop for a moment to look at a TV screen promoting grocery categories, the same principle would apply if the retailer were promoting dietary supplements or foot care products,” he pointed out.
A growing number of retailers are utilizing flat-screen TVs and kiosks at store level to promote food-related items, Wisner noted — though use of such media for categories outside food is a bit more common in the pharmacy section than elsewhere in the nonfood area, he said.
But even when those media are used for food items, it can benefit nonfoods, Wisner added, because of the tie-in possibilities. “If you're promoting healthy foods, for example, that can be a wonderful way to promote glucose monitors or books on health or low-tech exercise equipment like yoga mats.
“Or if you're promoting low-fat diets, you can suggest non-stick cookware to cut calories. Specific recipes can also promote specific tools, so if you're offering tamale recipes, for example, you could promote large cooking pots for steaming; or if it's tortillas, you could tie-in flat paddles.
“Some tie-ins are very easy,” he added. “Even something as simple as an apple a day can be an opportunity to sell apple peelers.
Paul Weitzel, managing partner at Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill., told SN he anticipates an increase in the use of more social, interactive media in supermarkets, much of it involving cell phones.
“In the next few years, people will have the chance to opt in for special promotions on their phones that will be triggered as they walk into a store or up a particular aisle, and the discounts will be applied at the checkstand, the way they are now with frequent-shopper cards,” Weitzel explained.
As an alternative, coupons could be sent to consumers' cell phones and then retrieved at the front end, he suggested.
“And with so many individuals having their own cell phones, the promotions could be targeted not just at families but also at specific members of a family,” he said. “You can't get any more targeted than that.
“It will be a simple matter for companies to say, ‘If we can find you, we can deliver a promotional message.’ The ability to reach someone at any time or when he's right at the shelf would be huge.”
Wisner said he also sees future possibilities to promote nonfoods using cell phones.
“The technology is there, though we're still on the bleeding edge of making it work at a point where there will be enough infrastructure and enough consumers with that kind of plan,” he explained.
To illustrate the implications of texting for nonfoods, Wisner recalled a program instituted several years ago by Meijer, Grand Rapids, Mich., at a time when gas prices were escalating, during which people who signed up for the service were alerted through text messages when gas prices were about to go up so they could come in and buy gas at a lower price.
“That was a great idea — and a very successful program — that helped the customer and brought traffic to the store,” Wisner said.
Within 10 years, that kind of communication could be commonplace, he added. “By that time, it may be possible to navigate the store with a cell phone that picks up information on what's on sale in each aisle,” he explained.
Use of various health-related websites is also growing, according to Chris DePetris, director of wellness programs for the Global Market Development Center, Colorado Springs.
“Typically, a consumer's Internet research begins with a Google search for information,” he explained. “Consumers do not seem to utilize any one website to a greater extent than another when seeking general wellness information. Rather, they may look at multiple sites to answer one question and rely on a single source other times.”
Following are some uses of new media tools as used by various retailers:
Hy-Vee Food Stores, West Des Moines, Iowa, uses a closed-circuit TV system at its stores — in the meat, produce, grocery, dairy and pharmacy sections — to promote its own programs and to feature ads from various suppliers who pay for the time.
In the pharmacy section, the TV sets feature information from the store's dietitian on health, diet, new products and other subjects. Hy-Vee has had the program for three years.
Hy-Vee intends to continue the program “because it provides us with another medium to reach customers at a different point in the buying and decision-making process,” spokeswoman Ruth Comer said.
“We still do a lot of traditional print and TV advertising that reaches consumers in their homes, but this program gives us a way to get a message across to them at the point of purchase.”
Jake Myers, owner of Everybody's Markets, which operates single stores in Raymond and Elma, Wash., told SN he plans to add flat-TV screens in his nonfood sections later this year to promote different items, depending on which vendor is willing to pay for the TV and DVD player.
He's had a similar setup in the meat department at one of his stores for several months, promoting certified Black Angus beef, along with featuring meat department personnel.
“What it's done is gotten customers believing we have good meat,” Myers told SN. “And with the photos we run on the screen, customers know they can talk to the meat cutters by name for personal service.”
Myers said he's looking forward to putting TVs in other parts of the store, including the pharmacy — wherever vendors are willing to pay for an exclusive for several months.
He's also contemplating installing kiosks near the entrances to his two stores in the next few weeks — paid for by Western Family, his private-label supplier — “which will allow any vendor that wants to promote his product for a one-month period on deals to get space or offer coupons there,” Myers said.
He estimates about half the customers at each store will use the kiosks at some point.
• Associated Food Stores, Salt Lake City, also hopes to tie in nonfoods when it tests ShoptoCook — an interactive recipe offering utilizing in-store TV sets — at three corporate-owned Macey's stores before expanding it to all corporate stores if it proves effective, Janelle Waters, director of business development for Macey's, told SN.
“We want to use the system as a crossover to draw people to different sections of the store, including the pharmacy,” she explained.
“We're trying to transition the pharmacies into more health-and-wellness departments rather than operating them as just a place for managing medications. The goal is to train customers in healthier ways of eating across the whole store.”
The system utilizes a large flat-screen TV that is interactive, enabling customers to touch it to access information on health issues of concern to them, Waters explained.